For nine days, from 13 to 22 September, London played host to the annual London Design Festival (LDF), which saw hundreds of events taking place across the city. A centrepiece of this annual Festival is the ‘Landmark projects’ – specially commissioned works for the public to experience and enjoy.

This year the organisers decided to revive its relationship with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and commissioned de Rijke Marsh Morgan (dRMM) Architects to create an engaging wooden structure.

“The idea was to create a staircase that was not possible necessarily to understand as a simple linear composition. It was something that we wanted to be complex, interlocking and perhaps spatially impossible,” explains Alex de Rijke, co-founder of dRMM Architects and Dean of Architecture at the Royal College of Art.

de Rijke and his team came up with a towering structure that features a series of 15 Escher-like interlocking staircases made from a prefabricated construction using 44 cubic metres of American tulipwood, a plentiful and sustainable American hardwood donated by AHEC members.

With this complex design conceived, dRMM Architects then worked closely with engineers at Arup to bring it to life. For this Endless Stair project, the tulipwood was composed as cross-laminated timber (CLT), an increasingly popular construction material.

“Tulipwood is amazingly strong and stiff for its weight compared to many other species. Tulipwood CLT offers a really exciting addition to the CLT family,” states Adrian Campbell, structural and lead engineer from Arup. “This project provides fertile opportunity for this elegant sculpture to act as a test bed for the creative use of timber.”

The resulting Endless Stair structure consists of a total of 187 steps, the shortest route to the top being 48 steps, with the total length of all the panels measuring 436 metres. Although not open to the public at night, passersby can still enjoy the spectacle as it’s lit with an artistic lighting scheme by Seam Design.

However, when visited during the day, it offers spectacular views along the River Thames. “The program of modern art and architecture at Tate Modern, combined with the Thames panorama of London, provides a context to which dRMM’s Escher-inspired installation can make a distinctive contribution,” says de Rijke.

Although, the Endless Stair structure used a total of 11.4 tonnes of tulipwood, none of it will be wasted when it is dismantled on 10 October as the project has been designed to be reconfigured and re-used.

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